“You do see, don’t you, that she’s got to be killed?”
Poirot overhears these words from the window of his Jerusalem hotel and assumes they are a quote from a book or a play. It is only later that he realises they were spoken in all seriousness…
The Boynton family are holidaying in the Middle East: Raymond, sister Carol, half-sister Ginny, brother Lennox and his wife Nadine, and step-mother Mrs Boynton, who has an unnatural control over all four siblings. Raymond and Carol wish to break free and both talk to Dr Sarah King before being forbidden from seeing her.
They make the lengthy trip to Petra and it is here that Mrs Boynton is found dead one evening. Heart failure seems to be the likely cause until Sarah King’s estimate of the time of death contradicts Raymond’s witness statement and Dr Gerard says that a syringe and some digitoxin have been stolen from his supplies.
Re-enter Hercule Poirot who promises the local authorities that he can solve the case within twenty-four hours but as each member of the family benefitted from Mrs Boynton’s death has he bitten off more than he can chew?
By interviewing all those who took in the excursion he is able to cut through the many lies that he is told to reveal a final sequence of events that is vastly different to that initially presented to him.
A very strong book in my opinion and fits in well in with the overall high quality of Christie’s work during this period.
Recurring character development
Has been brought up to believe that “all outside air is best left outside, and that night air is especially dangerous to health”.
Takes a “little shoe-cleaning outfit and a duster” everywhere he goes.
His “large grotesque turnip of a watch” first mentioned in The Murder on the Links belonged to his grandfather.
Signs of the Times
Reference is made to Anthony Trollope agreeing to kill off one of his characters after overhearing his fellow passengers say that “he should kill off that tiresome old woman”. This is particularly appropriate given that Mrs Boynton is, at the very least, a tiresome old woman. Trollope’s character is the awful Mrs Proudie who dies in “The Last Chronicle of Barset”.
Raymond says “people would say we were crazy – not to be able to just walk out”. It is only recently that is has been recognised amongst the wider public how insidious abusive, controlling behaviour impacts its victims and why they do not just walk away. In 2015 controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship was made illegal in England and Wales.
Dr Gerard thinks that Nadine Boynton looks like a “Luini Madonna”. Bernardino Luini (c.1480-1532) was an Italian painter, said to have worked with Leonardo da Vinci, which has lead to their workings misattributed to each other at various times.
Dr Gerard reads a copy of Le Matin. This French daily newspaper was first published in 1884 and edited by Alfred Edwards. Maurice Bunau-Varilla became its president in 1901 and the paper closed in 1944 shortly after his death. Gaston “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” Leroux worked for the paper during its heyday.
Drs Gerard and King go to Petra with Messrs Castle, the tourist agent. I can’t find anything about their history online, which is why I didn’t reference them when reviewing The Secret of Chimneys where Anthony Cade is working for them at the start of that novel. Presumably as they are mentioned in a second book they were a real company.
Reference is made to a Liberal government being unexpectedly in power. This is a fiction as the last Liberal government of the UK was Lloyd-George’s between 1916 and 1922.
Lady Westholme and Dr Gerard discuss the League of Nations and the Litvania boundary dispute. Litvania was a name sometimes used for Lithuania, which following the First World War had a long-running border dispute with Poland.
Going down into camp at Petra, Dr King thinks “down into the valley of death”. This from Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” previously referenced in Lord Edgware Dies.
Dr Gerard’s quote “So I returned and did consider all the oppressions…” is Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.
Miss Pierce is reading “The Love Quest”. I can’t find a contemporary book of that name but the title has been used by Anne Cumming for her 1991 volume of autobiography.
Dr Gerard refers to Kopp’s experiments with digitoxin. This could be a reference to Emil Kopp (1817-1875) a French professor of toxicology and chemistry.
Dr King asks Poirot if his enquiries are “a case of a Roman Holiday”. I’d heard of the Audrey Hepburn film before but never seen the expression used anywhere else. I thought it might be like a Busman’s Holiday (as Poirot is on holiday) but actually it means deriving entertainment from the suffering in others, arising from the gladiatorial contests staged on Roman holidays.
Mahmoud’s rushed quote is the first line of Keats’ “I had a dove and the sweet dove died”.
One character planned to commit murder using a method taken from an English detective story. This is “Unnatural Death” by Dorothy L. Sayers because I originally read that after this book and the method there is a central part of the plot and I thought it couldn’t be what it was as that was so obvious from having read this book first. Advice to parents – introduce your children to GAD fiction in strictly chronological order!
Dr Gerard refers to the Weissenhalter reaction. The only online reference I can find to this is where the same term is used in a similar context in a piece of “X-Files” fan fiction.
References to previous works
Poirot has a letter of introduction from Colonel Race to Colonel Carbury which references Cards on the Table.
Nadine Boynton refers to Poirot having accepted an official verdict in regards to Murder on the Orient Express when pleading her case. Poirot wonders how she knows the truth of that matter, which implies that the official verdict is still widely accepted, and makes it strange that he revealed the solution to a virtual stranger in Cards on the Table.
Miss Pierce lived near Doncaster at the time of The ABC Murders.
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Fulfils “When – during a trip/vacation”.